A proposed apartment complex in South Asheville is generating angst and highlights the growing frustrations some Buncombe County residents feel as housing developments continue to fill in previously vacant parcels of land. However, it appears some of those frustrations are being heard as late Friday, June 9, the developer announced he was pushing the hearing to July, rather than next week.
At issue is Overlook Apartments, a proposed 221-unit apartment complex that includes 30 townhomes. The size of the project is more than eight buildings and therefore requires a conditional use permit to be designated as a planned unit development. The application is from Greensboro-based company Hagen Engineering PA.
Community members began vocal opposition to the project during a June 6 Board of Commissioners meeting. Residents said they learned of the project less than two weeks before its scheduled hearing and urged commissioners to delay action.
South Asheville resident Vijay Kapoor uses Overlook Road to take his daughter to school and doesn’t think the thoroughfare can handle the additional traffic the housing development would add. He told Xpress that, as of June 9, he had heard from more than “400 people opposing this project and that list is growing every hour.”
As of June 8, Kapoor said there has not been any communication with the developer.
Xpress also reached out to the developer and has not heard back.
Kapoor then emailed Xpress on June 9 stating he heard from the developer and the hearing would be postponed until July 12 in order to meet with nearby residents.
In a mass email to people in the community Kapoor revealed: “The Home Owner Association presidents of communities along Overlook Road are in the process of setting up a meeting with the developer’s attorney to learn more about the proposal. Before any Board of Adjustment hearing, we will insist on having public town hall meetings where residents can ask questions of the developer.”
“It’s really struck a chord down here. I thought that the neighborhood reaction to the Sweeten Creek/Mills Gap road apartment complex was big, but people are even more upset about this one,” said Kapoor.
“As an attorney, I’ve never seen such a process so stacked against residents. Signs about the hearing didn’t go up until late last week, people didn’t receive letters until early this week, we haven’t received the information that we’ve requested from the county. This, despite the fact that the county had the application since April.”
Chief among worries stemming from the additional housing is not just traffic congestion but accidents. N.C. Department of Transportation data shows that in 2014, Overlook Road had an annual average daily traffic of 9,000 cars, or nearly 3.3 million cars a year.
Information from Asheville Police Department’s traffic incident report database shows Overlook Road had 23 accidents in 2016 and is up to 11 accidents this year, with five in May.
However, Kapoor and others who have reached out to Xpress are worried that despite what they believe is an untenable traffic situation, the project will move forward. To that end, some have vowed litigation.
County Planner Debbie Truempy said the appeals process is handled by the county’s Superior Court. “Basically, the court reviews the decision for an error of law, if the board had the power to make the decision or whether the board exceeded its powers in issuing the decision,” Truempy told Xpress.
But Kapoor is looking even further ahead, worried the process is inherently flawed, noting a group of residents will request commissioners change the notification process. He said a model such as the city recently adopted would be the goal.
In the past year, there have been a number of housing developments approved and a growing sense of consternation from South Asheville, and other county, residents who are voicing displeasure with development creating increased stress on infrastructure that is believed to be already at, or near, capacity. For example:
- June 2016: Board of Adjustment approves contentious residential development.
- August 2016: Board of Adjustment gives go-ahead to 224-unit apartment complex.
- January 2017: Board of Adjustment gives nod to 232-unit apartment complex.
- May 2017: Rowdy, marathon BOA meeting highlights development, traffic frustrations.
- June 2017: P&Z votes in favor of new RAD zoning code, 133 apartments.
Subject to interpretation
Also of note on the agenda is a proposed vacation rental complex consisting of nine cabins at 198 Shope Creek Road. This project was originally denied during May’s Board of Adjustment meeting and had a number of people speaking out against it, with noise and traffic being the primary complaints.
At the time, board Chairman George Lycan expressed concerns about noise and noted it would be “detrimental to public welfare and change the character of the surrounding area.”
County Attorney Michael Frue then told board members: “The board can hang its hat on noise or traffic via ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ That’s the board’s discretion.”
In regard to noise and traffic, central to both aforementioned agenda items, approval is somewhat subjective.
Frue explained, via email, that the Shope Creek Road decision was based on the county’s zoning ordinance regarding conditional use permits: “The main concerns of board and public appeared to be noise and traffic in that rather tight valley. When considering a [conditional use permit] application, the board is charged with examining whether satisfactory provisions and arrangements have been made concerning the health and safety of those living nearby and whether the proposed use may be detrimental to the public welfare.
“[Board of Adjustment] decisions are often subjective. That’s why those hearings are quasi-judicial and speakers are required to be sworn in. As opposed to the Planning Board, where there is little leeway in that board’s application of the ordinance.”The Board of Adjustment will hold a public hearing on the Shope Creek Road proposal and other developments at noon June 14 at 46 Valley St. The Overlook Apartments hearing is now slated for July 12.